Designer Spotlight: Stephanie Fizer Coleman

HELLO, PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELF:

Hi!  I'm Stephanie Fizer Coleman and I’m a children's book illustrator, designer, and Photoshop teacher.  Usually, you'll find me in my home studio, surrounded by books, stacks of sketches, and many cups of tea.  Having worked fulltime as an illustrator and designer for nearly a decade, my client list includes:  American Greetings, Papyrus, Sellers Publishing, Noel Tatt, Mudpuppy, Chronicle Books, Highlights Magazine, and Ladybird Books. 

HOW DID YOU START YOUR ILLUSTRATION BUSINESS?

My illustration business grew from my Etsy shop.  As my Etsy shop grew, my work was noticed by art directors and I slowly started getting freelance work and licenses.  Actually, for several years, my shop kept me so busy it was difficult to fit freelance work in.  About 3 years ago, I decided to scale my shop back and spend more time focusing on illustration and design jobs instead.  Early last year, I signed with a children's publishing agent and since then have been happily illustrating books and kids' magazine spreads. 

WERE YOU ALWAYS DRAWN TO CHILDREN'S BOOK ILLUSTRATION?

My journey to an illustration career was a fairly long and winding one, but I think children's illustration was just a natural landing spot for me.  Books were such a big part of my life as a kid (and still are as an adult, of course) and children's book are such a beautiful mode of expression, loved by both kids and adults alike.  These days, I illustrated mostly nonfiction picture books, about animals, birds, the ocean, etc, so to be illustrating the same sort of books that I loved most as a child, well,  it makes me tear up just writing about it.  I love this work.

you tech a photoshop class at atly's. could you tell us a little bit about that?

Yes!  I teach a series of classes on Atly called Photoshop for Illustrators.  There are two classes right now, with a third in the works.  You know, I just felt strongly that illustrators could benefit from a Photoshop class designed just for them.  I spent so many hours searching for tutorials and trying to figure out the correct search terms for what I wanted to do back when I was first learning Photoshop.  Now, with nearly a decade of Photoshop experience, I felt compelled to build Photoshop classes that pared this massive software down into manageable chunks for illustrators and designers.  I love being able to share my knowledge and getting to see art that students have created using my Photoshop techniques is almost as rewarding as creating art myself!

what kind of work do you do these days?

My days tend to be a fair balance of illustration work and licensing work, which is perfect for me because I am easily bored and enjoy the challenge of balancing both ways of working.  My illustration jobs are usually intense, requiring research because they are nonfiction, and requiring lots of time as well.  Finding time to work on my licensing portfolio, or being commissioned to design greeting cards or wrapping paper, is refreshing and challenging in its own way.  I'm definitely never bored!

IF YOU COULD GIVE YOUR 10 YEARS YOUNGER SELF ONE KEY PIECE OF ADVICE OR AN INSIGHT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Be more brave about putting your work out there.  No one will ever enjoy your work or hire you for a commission, unless you're actively sharing your work.

WHEN YOU FEEL STUCK OR IN A DESIGN RUT, HOW DO YOU GET YOURSELF OUT OF IT AND BACK ON TRACK?

Exercise and fresh air are usually the key for me, so I'll head out for a nice walk with my dogs or run a few miles on the treadmill.  Really, anything not art or design related usually helps sort me out when I'm feeling stuck. 

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE DESIGN TOOLS?

Photoshop and my Cintiq 22HD are my true loves, but all of my work starts with my favorite mechnical pencil and a stack of copy paper to scribble on.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR DESIGN PROCESS? FAVOURITE APPS AND PROGRAMS

Because I'm an illustrator and a designer, my process varies a bit depending on what I’m working on.  My children's book illustration work usually requires a bit more prep as far as research and sketch studies.  My design work usually begins as some sort of doodle in my sketchbook that leads me along a trail to an idea I want to develop.  From there it's really the same process for illustration or design, for me:  thumbnail sketches to figure out layouts, lots of notes to myself scribbled all over sheets of copy paper, a more refined but not very neat sketch, then I take it all into Photoshop where I work on color and texture for the final art. 

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE DESIGN PROJECTS TO DATE?

 I've worked on several kids products for Mudpuppy over the last few years, mostly puzzles, but also sticker sets and finger puppets.  Those projects are always fresh and fun, and the final products are always just lovely.  I'm always excited to see a new Mudpuppy job pop into my inbox. 

I got to design some dog-themed gift wrap over the summer and prettymuch any project that allows me to draw animals is my favorite project at that moment.

WHO ARE YOUR DREAM CLIENTS OR WHAT IS YOUR DREAM PROJECT?

Land of Nod, of course!  Also Madison Park Greetings and I'd love to work with Chronicle Books again.  I worked with Chronicle a few years ago on a couple of personalized children's books with coordinating suites of products, but now I'd love to illustrate a picture book with them or even design a stationery series.

THERE HAS BEEN AN ART SUPPLY SANCTION IMPOSED AND DESIGNERS ARE ONLY ALLOWED TO POSSESS 3 ITEMS/TOOLS, WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE?

If we're talking digital art, I need my Cintiq, Photoshop, and probably my iPad Pro.  For physical media, I need my Moleskine sketchbook, my favorite mechanical pencils, and some watercolor brush pens.  I totally cheated and choose six things, didn't I?  Oh well, it's too late now ;)

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?

For me, inspiration seems to come mostly from nature.  As a kid, I was forever dragging home leaves or flowers to press and save, clomping through the woods around our house with my father, and reading every single book about animals I could find at the library.  Now, as an artist, I pretty much still do those things, but I have an outlet to express my love for all the things that grow and wander.

WHO WOULD YOU SAY THE GREATEST DESIGNER IS?

He's more of a design-y illustrator, I think, than a designer, but Charley Harper has been the greatest inspiration to me.  His ability to distill complex bits of nature into simple shapes, lines, and colors was and is unparalelled.  Also, he was from WV, like me!

When I’m long gone, I hope people remember me mostly for my work, that it made them smile, or brightened their life, or just added a bit of beauty.  And I hope that people see my animals or bird paintings and it makes them curiousabout and more respectful of nature.